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Habanero Nightmare

Last night I decided to make a spicy coleslaw - I had some cabbage, a habanero, and some cilantro, so why not?

Now I know. I barely slept two hours last night because my hands were burning so badly. I was literally crying and contemplating a trip to the emergency room because the pain was so excruciating. My boyfriend did a little research online for some home remedies and I tried many of them - Tylenol, Benadryl, dipping my hands in milk, cleaning them with rubbing alcohol. Nothing brought any sort of lasting relief. I ended up lying in bed all night with my hands clutching an ice pack for dear life. Finally, around 5 AM the pain subsided enough that I was able to sleep. This morning I'm feeling much better, but a mild burning persists on a couple of fingers.

I know that some chefs use gloves to cut peppers, and although this is the only time I've had this kind of reaction, I will definitely glove up the next time I'm cutting the spicy little devils. (the slaw was delicious though...)

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  1. Wow. I've never had that kind of skin reaction to a chile. In all fairness, however, I don't often cook with habaneros because I'm the only one in my family who would go near them. So, your GI tract is less sensitive than your skin? Or maybe you just handled them in a more concentrated way than eating them? I'm so glad you're better this morning.
    Your story does remind me, BTW, of an early lesson that handling serranos or jalapenos and then contact lenses is a very painful error. I think I had to buy new lenses and wear glasses for a couple of days for my eyes to recover.

    1 Reply
    1. re: vickib

      Just re the GI tract question: don't forget that your digestive system contains acid that would strip the paint off a car. And not to be really gross, but I know a woman whose back teeth are almost worn away because of reflux.

      One thing I always do when cutting chilies (I usually use Thai bird ones) is try to limit my fingers' exposure to the insides of them. Cut in half lengthwise, then turn them cut side down before slicing. When I'm not careful, I do get a burn in my fingers that sometimes lasts a day or so, but some people are also more sensitive than others. Good to keep a pair of rubber gloves around!

    2. Having lived in Trinidad and Tobago and brought up on Pepper sauce made from Scotch Bonnet peppers, The best thing I have found to take away the burn and any residue from your hands is lime or lemon juice. After washing with hot soapy water, of course. But I have never had such a reaction even with chapped skin. Might want to have it checked out.

      1 Reply
      1. re: currymouth

        Anything acidic will help neutralize the burning. The heat is caused by capsaisin, which is an alkaloid or base. So anything acidic will balance out the Ph to neutral. Citric is a common solution, vinegar works well too.

        Probably because you washed your hands the burning was worse, water will spread the burning and some soaps could aggravate it too.

      2. I once trimmed out a bag full of habaneros, wearing rubber gloves, and washed my hands very carefully both before and after taking the gloves off. Several hours later I used a fingertip to pick at an eye-boogie and I thought I was gonna die! Those things have some power to them.

        Yes, your typical GI tract is less sensitive than skin to peppers, for the simple reason that there aren't a lot of nerve endings in there. Even your mouth and throat don't have the level of pain receptors your hands have, and if your body chemistry is such that your skin is highly sensitive to alkaloids I can see how you could really suffer. Go get yourself some really good rubber gloves, not those cheap disposables.

        1. Wow, I'm sorry to hear that. I've never had the burning sensation in my hands before. I was KM at a Mexican restaurant for several years. I had a prep cook, who after chopping jalapenos, did not wash his hands BEFORE using the restroom. Had to send him home. He never made that mistake again.

          1. This happened to my husband once, except he must have rubbed his cheeks (on his face!) afterwards, because his cheeks were burning! I don't think his hurt as bad as yours seemed too, but aloe vera helped him get through the rest of the night.